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Professional Hackers assisted FBI to gain access to San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone: Report

The FBI is reported to have hired the services of professional hackers to seek access to the iPhone 5c belonging to one of the terror attack accused in the San Bernardino case, claims The Washington Post.

This contradicts the earlier held view that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had teamed up with the Israel-based firm Cellebrite to crack the said iPhone variant. The FBI is also reported to have paid the hackers a one-time fee but is keeping their identity a secret.

As for the method used, while exact details are being kept under wraps, the hackers are believed to have exploited at least one software flaw that was previously not known. The next step was to create a special hardware that helped the security agency in cracking the four-digit secret PIN number to open up the iPhone.

However, cracking the Personal Identification Number itself did not pose much of a challenge to the FBI, who said it could be done within minutes – 26 mins to be precise. Instead, the real deal was to bypass a key security feature of the iPhone 5C that allowed up to 10 chances for the user to enter the correct PIN, beyond which, the iPhone is designed to encrypt all data to prevent those from falling into the wrong hands. The hacker’s expertise also came in handy in reducing the mean time between making wrong attempts.

The FBI had earlier tried to force Apple into developing special means to devise a workaround to the security feature that allowed only 10 attempts to enter the right PIN. Apple, of course, had resisted those moves vehemently, choosing instead to stand for privacy at all costs. Things risked turning really ugly with reports of the particular iOS software experts within Apple who could actually carry out the suitable modifications of planning to leave Apple rather than compromise with the security of the OS.

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While the standoff might have been averted, Apple said they aren’t too worried of the security hack that applies to the iPhone 5C in particular and the iOS 9, in general, claiming the device or operating system version makes for a small user base for Apple. That also is the reason cited by Apple lawyers for not filing a case against the FBI to compel the latter into revealing the flaw they exploited to hack the said smartphone.

In any case, while the FBI and Apple might not be at loggerheads anymore, the security vs. privacy debate it triggered continues with no end in sight either.